Kelsey Heavener '17 Researches Cystic Fibrosis

June 16, 2016

Kelsey Heavener

We caught up with Kelsey about her SURPASs project on the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Protein!

What are you studying at Simmons?

I came into Simmons undecided — but I knew I wanted to pursue an education in science. In the end I couldn’t decide between biology and chemistry so I decided to take classes with both and ended up in biochemistry!

What's your favorite class you've taken so far?

Biochemistry. It had really neat material and cool laboratory experiments.

Do you have a favorite spot on campus?

The Management Building! It's a really nice place to study.

How did you get involved with The Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Simmons (SURPASs)?

SURPASs was the perfect opportunity for me to live in Boston for the summer, expand my research knowledge and become part of a learning community. I researched a topic I wanted to study and applied.

Tell us about your SURPASs project. 

I'm doing my research with Professor Canfield and we're also receiving help from Dr. Walker.

My project focuses on studying the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Protein, which suffers from a mutation resulting in the genetic disease Cystic Fibrosis. In the most common Cystic Fibrosis mutation — F508del — the mutant protein is unable to leave the endoplasmic reticulum and travel to the surface of the cell where it functions, and instead it's degraded. 

My project explores the function of the different types of drugs used to correct this problem: Correctors, Potentiators and Inhibitors. The second part of my project includes the use of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Repeats) to edit the CFTR gene.

What does your SURPASs project aim to accomplish?

I want to test how well a Corrector drug VX-809 works to rescue the F508 CFTR protein. I'll do this by analyzing the cell membrane; if the drug is working, more CFTR protein will reach the cell surface and should be found on the plasma membrane. By comparing the effectiveness of different drug types, the most beneficial therapy for Cystic Fibrosis can be identified. 

My goal in the CRISPR portion of my project is to successfully edit the CFTR gene so that it's functioning correctly using a CRISPR/Cas9 system to perform homologous repair of the gene. Overall, I would like to explore and compare these different methods for rescuing the CFTR protein.

What's the most rewarding part of your experience so far?

The weekly group discussions with the scholar and mentor community. I love telling people about my ideas and research and hearing about the interesting research other scholars are doing. Discussing research together and hearing other peoples’ points of view is so interesting and fun!

What are the top 3 lessons you've learned from SURPASs?

  • Work hard to build on your ideas. In order to submit my application I had to do a lot of research to determine what I was going to study. It was hard work — but a really valuable experience. 
  • Work on a team with other people. My mentor and other faculty have been very helpful in pushing my ideas and helping me figure out how to order science supplies from different companies. 
  • Improve my time management. Since I had the chance to design the experimental plan for my project, I also had to lay out a timeline to get work done. There can be unexpected problems in your project even if you plan ahead. You have to adjust and keep working!

What's your favorite summer activity?

Running by the Charles River after work. Boston is a beautiful city to explore!

What's your Simmons Moment?

When I was finally able to shift from undecided to choosing to be a biochemistry major. The supportive faculty and informative classes at Simmons really helped me pin down what I wanted to study. It was the first time I really figured out what I enjoyed doing — and I love my major so much! 

One of my favorite things about Simmons is the faculty who are so committed to our success and the passion the students have for pursuing their goals. It influences me positively to do better myself!